A little know car company of Detroit produced the 1928 Essex Sedan, the subject of this profile by the folks at Old Car Weekly
By Brian Earnest
Larry Jarvis will never pretend to be one of those “lifelong car guys.” He just wasn’t one of those garage jockeys who grew up with grease under their fingernails and were rebuilding engines before they could legally drive. It’s only really been about three years since Jarvis stuck his toe in the old car hobby waters and mustered up the courage to buy his first collector car. And even though he’s still a bit of a rookie these days, Jarvis has to laugh at just how naive and green he was when he broke the ice and took delivery on his 1928 Essex sedan — our latest selection for Old Cars Weekly’s “Car of the Week.”
“I never even asked anybody if it ran, I didn’t even know if it had any engine in it,” he says with a chuckle. “I just knew that I wanted it. “It was scheduled to be delivered to my house [on a] Monday, and I was out doing stuff during the day, and when I showed up it was in my driveway… There was no key in it, and I didn’t know how [the transport driver] got it off the truck … “He had left a note and I called him. He told me he left the key under the side mat. And I said, ‘How did you get it off the truck?’ He said, ‘I just drove it off. It runs real nice.’ “I said, ‘It runs?’ I was so excited, I jumped right in and started it up.”
Jarvis’ inexperience and enthusiasm probably made him ripe for being ripped off, but instead he figures he got a sweet deal on a car that has given him a whole new hobby to enjoy. “It was always one of those things where I’d see [an old car] going down the road, and you think to yourself, ‘Wow,’ I’d really like to have one of those,” said Jarvis, who works as a jailhouse chaplain in Medina, Ohio. “Then when I got to the point where I turned 55, I thought, ‘If I don’t do this stuff now, I’m never going to do it …This is the first kind of car like this I’ve ever had. I didn’t know a whole lot about anything, but I just kind of picked the one that looked the best.” Jarvis originally spotted the car for sale on eBay and decided to put in a bid and see what happened. Turns out the car was only a few hours away in Michigan, so he decided to take a ride north and see what it looked like before the auction ended. “When I saw it, I went, ‘Wow, I really want that car,’,” Jarvis said. “It just so happened that my first bid was the only other bid (above the minimum bid) that they got, so I got the car … I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew it was something I wanted to work on and play with.”
Jarvis’ ’28 Essex is probably not your average “first collector car.” Certainly, not many hobby greenhorns pull the trigger on an orphan car more than eight decades old. The four-door, five-passenger sedan was one of six body styles offered in 1928 by the Essex Motor Company, which manufactured cars in Detroit from 1919 to 1932. In 1933, the company became part of Terraplane. There are no confirmed numbers on how many sedans like Jarvis’ were produced for 1928, but Essex cranked out 229,887 cars in all for that model year. The styling of the “Super Six” series has been compared with the Hudsons of the era and featured a narrow radiator with vertical lines and a winged man mascot instead of the old moto-meter. The cars had short windshield visors, cowl-mounted “saddle lights” and four-wheel Bendix brakes. The six-cylinder inline engine produced a little over 17 hp and displaced 153.2 cubic inches. The floor shifter controlled a three-speed manual transmission. The 1928 cars rode on 110.5-inch wheelbases and 30 x 5.00 tires covered the wood-spoked wheels. Jarvis likens the driving experience to “just a little less than driving a tank. I had it up to 55 [mph] this summer, and I was not comfortable. On less than perfectly smooth road, once I get it up to 50 it starts jumping, because of the thin tires. Somewhere between 40 and 45 [mph] is a nice cruising speed … It’s terrible to try to turn because we’re all so used to power steering and power brakes. But it’s interesting because it’s so different.”
Jarvis initially had to jump through some hoops to get a title problem straightened out — the VIN on the car didn’t match the title — but beyond that he says his troubles with his Essex have been few and far between. On the advice of a local mechanic, he had the engine out, even though he said it probably wasn’t necessary. He got help installing new rods, main bearing, and valves, then wound up having to re-install the engine himself, with help from his 14-year-old son. “We tinkered and puttered and got all the parts on it and got it all back together, and cranked it and it wouldn’t start,” said Jarvis. “I asked another guy about it and he said, ‘Did you set the distributor in right?’ Turns out, when I put that in I had it cocked 90 degrees. So I took it out and changed that, and when I turned it over it started right up! Everybody was shocked, especially me.” It didn’t take long for Jarvis to realize he was going to need some ingenuity to keep his Essex on the road. NAPA and Auto Zone don’t carry most of the parts you need to keep an 81-year-old vehicle running. “I’ve learned since that parts are REAL hard to come by. I’ve learned to make some parts,” he said. “Gaskets are real hard to come by … And I actually wound up taking a piece of copper piping and making some fittings for my exhaust manifold … “Actually, I’ve learned it’s not as hard as you think to change stuff and fix stuff. You know, about the most I ever did before was change the oil. And I’ve found myself, this spring replacing one of my piston rods … The engines are very simple, but I think we get a fear of stuff that we don’t know. Then when we start working on it, it’s not that bad … “My carburetor started acting up. I thought, ‘Oh no, my carburetor!’ Well, I think there're only six pieces to the whole thing! I think anybody even considering it [buying an old car], ought to go ahead and just do it, because there is always somebody there to help.”
At this point, Jarvis says he has no plans to undertake a big restoration on the Essex. The car isn’t perfect, but its condition seems to be just right for its owner. “It really didn’t need anything,” he said. “There was almost no rust. On the bottom of the driver’s door a little bit of rust peeking through, but otherwise no rust. It’s in the kind of condition where I like it this way and I’m going to leave it this way …. “When a bunch of kids see it and say, ‘Wow, look at this old car,’ I just say, ‘Jump in it and beep the horn! It’s got an ‘Ah-Ooga,’ horn, and it just lights up people’s faces.” Jarvis said he has joined the Antique Automobile Club of America and the national Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club. Recently, he took his son to the AACA’s big fall Hershey meet, further immersing himself in his new hobby. The chaplain is even trying to fend off the urge these days to get his Essex a companion. “Well, I sure would like to have two in the garage,” he says with a laugh. “I keep looking … Of course, dreams are what keep you going, I think … If I do it, I’ll probably get another Essex.”
1928 ESSEX Four-door sedan
Price new: $795 Weight: 2,660 lbs.
ENGINE Inline Six. Cast iron block. B & S: 2-11/16 ½ x 4-1/4 in. Disp.: 153.2 cu. in. N.A.C.C. H.P.: 17.32. Main bearings: 3. Valve lifters: mechanical. Carb.: Stewart down draft.
CHASSIS No series designation. W.B.: 110-1/4. O.L.: 156.5 in. Frt/Rear Tread: 56/56. Tires: 30 x 5.00.
TECHNICAL Sliding gear transmission. Speeds: 3F/1R. Floor shift controls. Single plate clutch, cork inserts, running in oil. Shaft drive. Semi-floating rear axle. Overall ratio: 5.4:1. Mechanical brakes on four wheels. Wooden spoke wheels. Rim size: 20 x 4 in.
OPTIONS Front bumper. Rear bumper. Leather upholstery.
HISTORICAL TIDBITS — Introduced Jan. 1928. — Essex made 229,887 shipments to dealers during the 1928 calendar year. — The president of Essex was Roscoe B. Jackson. — This was the greatest sales year for the Essex.